How Australians watch cricket on screens in the future could depend on what happens with the Nine Network’s current discussions with Cricket Australia over the 2018-23 media rights.
UBS media analyst Eric Choi said the current deal costs Nine about A$100 million a year but generates only A$60 million to A$70 million in gross revenue.
Choi said the network should either ask for access to more content at no additional cost, or step away from its long association with cricket.
The ramifications of Nine’s decision could be broad, impacting not only its potential revenue and viewers, but also participation rates among Aussies playing grassroots cricket.
Cricket’s current standing
The current media rights deal for cricket includes the Nine Network and Network Ten. Nine has the rights to international tests, one-day internationals and T20 international games played in Australia, whereas Ten has the rights to the Big Bash League (BBL).
The league also has excellent crowd attendance, having recently ranked 9th in the world’s top-attended sports leagues.
Based on the BBL’s success and the increases seen in the new media rights for the Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL), Cricket Australia will want to see an increase in the bidding for its rights.
This is particularly relevant if Cricket Australia still relies as heavily on these rights as in 2012, when it said the rights accounted for 60%-80% of the total annual income.
But can the media rights continue to increase with the current unstable media landscape?
The current media landscape
Ten has said it expects its revenue to be “above the 1.2% increase” it outlined in February this year. Yet it will still need to undertake a “significant focus” on a corporate cost-cutting program and profitability as a priority.
With FTA broadcasters under financial pressures, any increase in new rights will require new stakeholders.
Foxtel currently shows international cricket matches played overseas, but does not have local coverage rights. If it could gain local cricket rights, this would further strengthen Foxtel’s sports offering of AFL, NRL, A-league, V8 Supercars, and many international sports.
Australia’s anti-siphoning regulation could prevent Foxtel completely dominating the cricket media rights. But this list is expected to be trimmed further by the government this year, furthering opening up the sports media battleground for pay television in future rights deals.
The future for digital rights
Digital rights will also be a major consideration with the new cricket media rights. While most would be looking at Telstra and Optus, there have been new players in this area who may also wish to place a bid.
Currently Cricket Australia has the Cricket Australia Live app which allows users to pay a subscription (A$30 per year or A$5.99 a day) to gain access to live streaming of games, but the new rights could also see this change.
Optus may continue its affiliation with cricket. It recently become the official mobile media partner of Cricket Australia, and principal sponsor of the Melbourne Stars Big Bash League team. Customers can access cricket content via the Optus Sports app, which also includes Optus’ recently acquired English Premier League.
Twitter has had success with broadcasting the US National Football League (NFL) and the Melbourne cup last year. This year it signed a two-year deal with the US National Lacrosse League. Twitter may consider its interest in a global sport like cricket.
Amazon, which recently launched its Prime Video service in Australia, could also be a contender. This year Amazon won the rights for NFL Thursday night matches. It paid US$50 million for ten games, five times the price paid by Twitter last year. Amazon may look at the cricket as another potential global sport to add to its catalogue.
The impact on the viewing experience
Can you “slice and dice” too much? This is a question being asked in the US by CBS chief executive Les Moonves with regard to the NFL.
Adding another stakeholder to cricket will impact the viewers’ experience. This year the new AFL media rights created some frustration linked with the way the rights had been negotiated, particularly the digital rights.
Telstra, the digital rights holder, is restricted by its agreement to limit live match videos to a 7-inch screen size. Highlights and replays are available in full-screen size 12 hours after the match ends. (Foxtel, meanwhile, can stream the games full-screen.)
This change has outraged some fans who paid the A$89 subscription fee for the AFL Live app. Because of the screen size restrictions, Telstra users with a large phone or tablet have a large amount of black space on their screen.
Some Australians are being creative in working around the restrictions.
Media coverage and participation
The media rights for sport can be looked at far more broadly than solely the coverage of the game itself.
In the United Kingdom there has been ongoing debate associated with cricket’s coverage. Since the sport moved to pay-TV, there has been a decline in participation levels, which many argued is primarily due to the game no longer being broadcast free to air.
Reports of a Sport England Active People survey show a 32% drop in participation levels in people aged over 16 since coverage of cricket moved to satellite and cable TV.
There are now steps being taken to introduce a new Twenty20 tournament in the UK, built around the success of the Indian Premier League and Australia’s BBL, which had some games live broadcast in the UK during the last season.
This is an interesting case study for Cricket Australia, which only last year announced cricket as “No 1 as the current top participation sport in Australia”.
Any changes to the rights that impact the percentage of Australians with access to the coverage, could also see a decline in participation based on the UK experience.
Authors: Marc C-Scott, Lecturer in Screen Media, Victoria University